Playing with Corilla, a new tech writing tool

David Ryan and team have just announced the first beta launch of Corilla, a collaborative publishing tool for technical writers. Huge congrats! This is a big milestone for a new product. The Corilla team are inviting us to try out the beta release and give them feedback, as a way of helping build a great product for tech writers. So, here goes. I’ve had a lot of fun playing with Corilla, building my first doc set.

I created a Corilla collection, which is a set of topics for publication. I didn’t have any real idea of what I’d write about. I just clicked get started today on the launch announcement and took it from there. It’s a smooth getting started experience. My only question was the significance of the team name during registration. I entered a team name of “DocsFTW”, on the premise that nothing can go wrong with a name like that.🙂

My first cruise with Corilla

After registration, the welcome screen has a nice greeting and useful information on how to get started:

Corilla for technical writers

Next I clicked through to Topics, then New Topic, and got this dialog:

,Corilla for technical writers

Nice: Context-sensitive help appears in the form of popups on the right-hand side of page when you open a section of the app for the first time (not visible on my screenshot). You can also click the help icon at bottom right at any time.

There’s more context-sensitive help within the UI itself, as you can see in the above screenshot. The wording needs a bit of tech writer love: It should probably say “for example” or “e.g.” rather than “i.e.” and the language in the suggested topic title isn’t quite right.

Something cool happened when I positioned my cursor in the Title text box. Corilla suggested two titles: “Working with an engineering team”, and “The future *is* technical communication”. These are two presentations I’ve worked on recently (both as Google Docs presentations). It’d be interesting to know how Corilla got those names.

Corilla for technical writers

So, thanks to Corilla for giving me a good idea of what to write about! I decided to copy some content from my presentation, “Working with an engineering team”, into the Corilla editor.

The Corilla editor uses Markdown, which is a lovely restful format for those of us who use it regularly. If you haven’t used Markdown before, now’s your chance. It’s a trimmed down markup format, great for simple online doc output and easy to read in its raw form.

Corilla for technical writers

After creating a few topics, the next step was to add some of my topics to a collection, which is the unit that Corilla makes available for publication. There’s a nice drag-and-drop feature for adding topics (on the left) to a collection (on the right):

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 6.11.10 AM

Here’s the published result, which you can see online at the Corilla viewer: Working with an Engineering Team. The following screenshot shows part of the page:

Corilla for technical writers

It’d be nice to have the topic titles more prominent in the HTML output, with an indication of where the title fits into the page. Currently the output appears as one long page, including all topics. The topic titles are on the left, but it’s not clear which bit of text they belong to. The only indication of a topic break is a horizontal line, such as the one above “Teamwork is key…” in the above screenshot.

You may notice that my published output has some weird characters every now and then. For example, instead of “It’s” you’ll see this:

It’s

That’s because I copied my content from a rich text editor into the Markdown editor. I wonder if there’s some way Corilla can detect and correct such nuisances?

One more suggestion for the Corilla team:  A user profile is identified by an email address, and the email address appears at the top right of every page. It’d be nice to have a name instead, both to make the experience more personal and to hide the email address. (I’ve adjusted mine in all the screenshots on this page.)

Congrats Corilla team!

Congrats to the team on the beta launch! The launch blog post describes upcoming features:

  • In-line contextual formatting
  • Views for version control diffs and merges
  • Bulk importing/exporting
  • Multiple format outputs (ePub, PDF, other APIs, etc)
  • Media and file management
  • Slack integrations (among others)
  • Improved onboarding and documentation
  • Editorial and QE modes
  • Published content analytics
  • Improved multi-author mode
  • Customisable CSS on published collections

I’m looking forward to seeing more on the collaborative editing and version control side of the product. And content analytics will be very cool too. I hope the team gets lots of good feedback from the technical writing community!

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 12 March 2016, in technical writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hi Sarah – Thanks for your article. Corilla got my attention too. There aren’t many tools targeting technical writers so it’s always interesting to find fresh and innovative proposals.

    Even at its beta stage, Corilla has a compelling set of features that can set this software apart. But Corilla is based in the Markdown language, and this may not be the best option for a content platform. See an interesting discussion about the lack of a Markdown standard in Eric Holscher’s post “Why You Shouldn’t Use “Markdown” for Documentation”.

    • Hallo Jorge
      It’s nice to see you hear, and to see that you’re starting a blog of your own! I agree – Corilla is an interesting entry into the tech writing arena. Eric Holscher’s post raised some very good points, and I’ve seen a lot of discussion on both sides.

      The Corilla team are diving into the discussion too. A recent tweet suggests that they’ll be adding other syntax formats to the tool.

      For me, the most compelling argument for Markdown is that, for all its faults, it’s become a common standard amongst engineers and other members of the software development team who contribute to the technical documentation.

      Cheers
      Sarah

  1. Pingback: Playing with Corilla, a new tech writing tool | TechCommGeekMom

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